By FRANCO PANIZO
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — For all that Landon Donovan has accomplished in his storied career, there has always been the lingering feeling from some circles that he could have achieved even more had he pushed himself a little harder.
Jurgen Klinsmann shares that feeling.
Much has been said about Klinsmann and Donovan and their falling out since the U.S. Men’s National Team head coach left the legendary American off this summer’s World Cup roster. But listening to Klinsmann talk ahead of Donovan’s U.S. swan song against Ecuador on Friday, it was evident just how different the two men are.
Klinsmann has always been a holistic person. A devout believer in pushing himself and others to move out of their comfort zones in order to grow. He doesn’t like resting on laurels, preferring instead to shoot for the stars even if the end result isn’t what was desired.
Donovan, meanwhile, has almost always stayed where he felt at ease. Even in the moments in his career where he strayed a bit, he would quickly return to more friendly confines, finding the inner peace and happiness that have made him so successful. He’s always been best in his nest.
“I think every player makes his own decisions in how far he wants to take certain things,” said Klinsmann. “I wish he would’ve gone a longer time at Bayern Munich to prove his point because he was right there. All he needed was a goal here and there in one of the games that he came on and maybe he can explain (why he didn’t stick it out) better, and other incidences where he went overseas or he simply just wanted to play his career in MLS, which is fine too if that’s what he wants.
“I think as a coach you always wish for that extra piece that you see in somebody and I think he had that opportunity and if he’s fine with it that’s okay. I think he could’ve gone even further.”
Donovan’s failed stint under Klinsmann at Bayern Munich in 2009 – where many believe the initial ripples in their now obviously-strained relationship began – was far from the 32-year-old attacker’s only experience in European club soccer.
He enjoyed two separately successful stints in 2010 and 2012 at Everton, a place where he said he felt very comfortable, but also had a pair of spells at Bayer Leverkusen where things just did not pan out. He felt homesick there, returned to MLS and lit the league ablaze. All while developing into the mighty fine player that set multiple lofty records for club and country.
“He gave it twice a chance with Leverkusen, it didn’t work out, and there are many reasons why sometimes certain things don’t work out,” said Klinsmann. “You saw it with Clint Dempsey in January with Fulham, it didn’t work out the right way for him because he came with some problems but then he scored two goals at the World Cup.
“As a coach, you want to see a player that drives for his 100 percent. I’m looking at Landon always and I wish in a certain way, ‘He could have done a bit more here and a bit more there,’ but he had a tremendous career, so he deserves that farewell tomorrow night.”
Klinsmann may have had high praise for Donovan on the eve of the LA Galaxy star’s 30-minute goodbye from the international game, but that does not mean he lamented the controversial decision to leave Donovan behind this summer.
While Donovan’s place in the starting lineup heading into Brazil was in question, he seemed like a shoo-in to play in his fourth World Cup. Then, Klinsmann hit the American soccer community with the shocking decision to cut Donovan before the World Cup.
Klinsmann insisted on Thursday that he had no regrets, or second thoughts, about leaving Donovan out of the World Cup picture. Not even two months removed from a Round of 16 exit that possibly could have been better if the U.S. had just an ounce more of quality on the field.
“You always make a decision based on what you see in that specific moment in time,” said Klinsmann. “In that moment in May, the picture for us was very clear and we were 100 percent behind the decision that we made, so we wouldn’t make any other decision.
“Obviously, months later or half a year earlier or a year earlier, we would have seen maybe other 23 (players) in that roster. But we always have to name a roster in that specific time period and then you have to be convinced of what you’re doing and I think we proved that point in Brazil.”
The question of whether Donovan should have been part of the World Cup team may never completely fade away, not with so many U.S. fans having loved Donovan, and not with so many fans believing he could have made a difference in Brazil.
While Klinsmann insisted that he didn’t regret his decision to leave Donovan home this summer, he was still more than willing to give the U.S. legend his due as Donovan prepares to take the field for the national team one last time.
“Speaking about Landon, you talk about an absolute amazing career that he represents,” said Klinsmann. “…He’s been the poster boy of the game and for MLS certainly for a long stretch of time. He raised the awareness of the game to new dimensions far before David Beckham or other big names came into the league. He deserves all of the admiration and recognition for this amazing career.”